French police question parents, friend of Paris attacker

French policemen arrest in Strasbourg on May 13, 2018 a man suspected to be related to an attacker who killed the day before one man and wounded four other people in a stabbing spree in Paris. (AFP / PATRICK HERTZOG)
Updated 14 May 2018

French police question parents, friend of Paris attacker

  • Police police identified the attacker as Khamzat Azimov, a 20-year-old Frenchman born in Chechnya, Russia.
  • Daesh video says Azimov was their “soldier” acting in response to the group’s calls for supporters in Europe to “take action in the land of disbelievers”.

PARIS: Investigators are following the trail of a 20-year-old Frenchman born in Chechnya who rampaged through a festive Paris neighborhood slashing passers-by with a knife, raising anew the specter of terrorism in France after less than two months of calm.
Using a knife, the man identified as Khamzat Azimov killed one person and wounded four others in a festive area near Paris’ old opera house. Police shot him to death as he charged them, witnesses said. Less than 24 hours later, investigators were questioning three people — his parents and a friend.
The Daesh group quickly claimed responsibility for the Saturday night attack via its Aamaq news agency, saying Azimov was their “soldier” acting in response to the group’s calls for supporters to target members of the US-led anti-IS military coalition, a stock response. France’s military has been active in the coalition since 2014.
On Sunday, Aamaq released a posthumous video said to show the attacker calling on Muslims in Europe to “take action in the land of disbelievers” if they can’t travel to the crumbling caliphate in Iraq and Syria, which has been pounded by coalition forces. The man said French citizens should pressure their government “if you want it (attacks) to end.”
SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi propaganda, obtained the video, which could not be independently authenticated. The young man’s face is covered, except for his eyes, with a black bandanna and the hood of his coat. The video was made outside amid trees and falling rain. French authorities had no comment.
Police detained Azimov’s parents in the northern 18th district of Paris and held a friend from Strasbourg in that city on the border with Germany in eastern France, French officials said. The friend was detained Sunday afternoon.
A security official said investigators searched the Paris residence of the parents. The official wasn’t authorized to speak about the investigation and insisted on not being quoted by name.
French media reported that the family had lived in Strasbourg, and it wasn’t clear if the suspect moved to Paris with his parents.
Counterterrorism investigators want to know if the assailant had help or co-conspirators. The attacker killed a 29-year-old man and wounded four other people, one from Luxembourg, before police fatally shot him.
The suspect was on a police watch list for radicalism, a judicial official not authorized to speak publicly about the case told The Associated Press. But he had a clean criminal record and did not know his victims, Interior Ministry spokesman Frederic de Lanouvelle said.
Witnesses reported hearing the man shouting “Allahu akbar,” the Arabic phrase for “God is great,” during the attack that happened at about 9 p.m. in a lively area near the Opera Garnier.
The assailant obtained French nationality in 2010, the Interior Ministry spokesman said. He was born in November 1997 in the largely Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya, where extremism has long simmered. Chechens have been among the numerous foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, some joining the Islamic State cause early in the fighting.
Chechnya’s president weighed in after the rampage, perhaps striking a nerve by insisting Sunday that France bears responsibility for the knifings. He said Azimov held a Russian passport only until he was 14 years old.
“I consider it necessary to state that all responsibility for the fact that Khamzat Azimov went on the road of crime lies completely with the authorities of France,” Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said. “He was only born in Chechnya, and his growing up, the formation of his personality, his views and persuasions occurred in French society.”
France has counted the most foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq of all European nations, many — but not all — of North African origin.
At home, IS sympathizers have killed more than 200 people in France in recent years — 130 in an attack on revelers in 2015. The last attack occurred in March near the touristic southern town of Carcassonne where an extremist with a gun killed three people, two in a supermarket, including an officer who exchanged himself for a hostage.
Like the Carcassonne killer, the Paris assailant was listed in a nationwide database of thousands of people suspected of links to radicalism, according to the judicial official. Extremists behind multiple attacks in France in recent years have turned out to be on the watch list.
The attacker targeted five people and then fled, according to Paris police and a witness. When police officers arrived minutes later, he threatened them and was shot dead. Several witnesses said the attacker ran directly toward police.
Bar patrons and opera-goers described surprise, confusion and panic as the drama unfolded, with people crawling under restaurant tables, and ordered to stay inside while the police operation was underway in the 2nd arrondissement, or district, on Paris’ Right Bank.
“I was working in the restaurant and suddenly I heard a woman screaming ... he came and attacked her,” recalled Jonathan, a witness working nearby who wouldn’t provide his last name. “That’s when the panic started. Everyone started screaming and trying to reach our restaurant. ... The attacker just kept walking around with his knife in his bloodied hands.”
A 23-year-old Brazilian tourist from Washington told AP that she and her aunt saw the fatally wounded victim on the ground and watched the ambulance arrive and rescue workers try to revive him.
“They kept doing CPR for what seemed to be a really long time and, in the end, he passed, and they put the sheet over him,” Carolina Melo said. She said she and her aunt had been in their hotel, went out to investigate the noisy confusion nearby but retreated after hearing several gunshots. The scene “was kind of a mess,” she said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would lend a hand in the investigation.
“The French authorities with all the intelligence help the United States can provide will do our best to unpack this in the coming hours,” Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday.”
However, one man who works in the neighborhood where the rampage occurred saw a grim pattern.
In a quarter of theaters and cafes, “It’s a good life and that’s probably what these people want to try to kill,” said Arnaud Contival, owner of an IT company. “I think that it’s the basics of terrorism ... anybody can be in any street, anywhere and they (attackers) are successful for a moment.”


US presidential debate: Biden warns Iran will ‘pay price’ for election interference

Updated 23 October 2020

US presidential debate: Biden warns Iran will ‘pay price’ for election interference

  • Trump and Biden go toe-to-toe on foreign policy, COVID-19 and race
  • Final debate paints two stark pictures of America’s future

NEW YORK: Joe Biden warned Iran would “pay a price” for interfering in the US election if he is elected president.

During a more orderly second debate with President Donald Trump Thursday, the former vice president looked to take the initiative on foreign attempts to influence voters.

Moderator Kirsten Welker asked Biden about revelations from intelligence officials that Russia and Iran had attempted to meddle in the election and obtained voter registration information.

“We know that Russia has been involved, China has been involved to some degree, and now we learn that Iran has been involved,” Biden said, “They will pay a price if I’m elected.”

(AFP)

John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, said this week that Iran used the information to send threatening emails to voters in Florida.  On Thursday, the US Treasury Department responded with new sanctions against five Iranian entities accused of spreading disinformation and division ahead of the election.

Biden’s warning to Iran would have rankled with Trump and his foreign policy team. The president has imposed a maximum pressure policy on Tehran by withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal and imposing tough sanctions.

Trump accuses the previous administration, in which Joe Biden deputized to Barack Obama, of allowing Iran to further its missile program and expand its militias across the Middle East.

On Russia, Biden said Moscow did not want him to get elected, because they know he would be tough on them.

“They know that I know them. And they know me,” Biden said.

Trump said: “There has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.”

He accused Biden of receiving money from foreign companies.

“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life,” Biden said, arguing that he had released all of his tax returns, unlike the president.

(AFP)

“Release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption,” Biden said. 

While the second and final debate ahead of the Nov. 3 election was a calmer affair than the first one, it was laden with attacks. 

The rules were different this time: microphones were muted for two-minute stretches to allow the other an uninterrupted answer. 

Welker kept the contentious rivals under control, and made sure things were clear and organized at the venue in Belmont University in Nashville. She got the best reviews of the night. 

A viewer tweeted: “Kristen Welker is putting on a master class in how to moderate a presidential debate.”

The two candidates squared off on foreign policy, the economy, race, healthcare, and climate change. 

(AFP)

The debate kicked off with exchanges over the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 220,000 in the US, where most states are seeing a dramatic resurgence of the virus. 

Trump defended the way his administration handled COVID-19. “We closed up the greatest economy in the world in order to fight this horrible disease that came from China,” he said.

The president argued that the mortality rate has decreased and a vaccine would probably be ready before the end of the year. 

“We’re rounding the turn. We’re learning to live with it,” said Trump. 

“We’re learning to die with it,” replied Biden, who criticized the president for not having a plan to address the crisis.

“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Biden said. 

(AFP)

Pivoting to a report that the current administration could not locate the parents of more than 500 children detained at the border with Mexico and separated from their families, Trump said children are brought across the border by “coyotes and drug cartels.” 

Defending his immigration policies, Trump said the border is now more secure than ever. 

He said he is “trying very hard” to reunite children with their parents. 

Biden called the Trump administration’s inability to locate the parents “criminal.” He said Trump’s family separation policy made America a laughingstock: “It violates every notion of who we are as a nation.”

The president then pressed Biden to answer “who built the cages” that were shown in media reports. Biden dodged the answer. 

The cages were built in 2014 by the Obama administration. 

Biden then promised, if elected, to put in motion reforms that would provide a pathway to citizenship, protected from deportation, for undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers”.  “We owe them,” Biden said.

Discussion heated up when Welker breached the race topic, as the country continues to contend with civil unrest over racial injustice and police brutality.  

Biden said the US has “never, ever lived up” to the promise of liberty and equality for all, a principle upon which it was founded.

Trump said that, other than Abraham Lincoln, “nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump.”

He attacked Biden’s support for the 1994 crime law, which critics say has led to mass incarceration.

But Biden turned to the camera and addressed voters directly:  “You know who I am. You know who he is.” 

Biden called the president a “racist” who “pours fuel on every single racist fire.”

(AFP)

“I think I have great relationships with all people. I am the least racist person in this room,” Trump responded.

Twelve days before the election, American voters were able to watch unfold two visions for the future of their country. It is hard to tell whether the candidates were able to broaden their appeal beyond their own bases and attract the undecided voters, whose numbers are shrinking by the day. 

Millions of them are already standing in long lines outside polling stations, braving night and chilly temperatures, to cast their early, final votes.